John Patterson was born on September 27, 1921 in Goldville, Alabama. After serving in World War II, Patterson received a law degree from the University of Alabama. He later served in the Korean War, and when he returned from the war in 1953, he joined his father's law practice in Phenix City, Alabama. In 1954, Patterson's father was nominated for Attorney General and promised to rid the area of corruption and illegal gambling. However, he was murdered and the younger Patterson ran on his father's platform and was elected. As Attorney General, Patterson worked on ridding Alabama of organized crime. However, Attorney General Patterson also was an opponent of the Civil Rights Movement. He was elected Governor of Alabama in 1958 and served until 1963. When his term was over, Patterson returned to practicing law. He ran for governor again in 1966, but was defeated by Lurleen Wallace. In 1972, he failed in his attempt to be Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. In 1984, he was appointed to the State Court of Criminal appeals. He retired in 1997.
The Civil Rights Movement was an important and controversial part of Patterson's four year term. Patterson banned the NAACP from Alabama and brought legal action against the individuals boycotting Tuskegee businesses and the buses in Montgomery. In 1958, with the support of Ku Klux Klan he ran for governor and defeated George Wallace. In the early 1960's he defended his state's right to be segregated and was responsible for the expulsion of black students from Alabama State University because they staged a sit-in. He also had a series of political clashes with federal officials over voter registration. During the time of the "Freedom Riders" Patterson showed a reluctance to prevent violence and intervene on behalf of the riders. The federal government had to intervene in Alabama in order to protect the riders, but there were still several episodes of violence that Patterson did little to prevent. Outside of the Civil Rights arena, Patterson was an effective governor in his ability to pass legislation that improved transportation and healthcare in Alabama.
Information for this biography was gathered from the following sources: